After hitting the beach, check out these island-wide attractions
SCUBA DIVING: Although there are many places to scuba dive around Thailand, the waters in and around Phuket are home to some of the world’s top dive destinations. The island is ringed by a number of established dive sites, including several small islands to the south and east: Koh Hae, Koh Raya (Noi and Yai), Koh Yao (Noi and Yai), Hin Daeng, and Hin Muang (also known as ‘Shark Point’ as it is a habitat for harmless leopard sharks). Excursions further afield—to Phang Nga Bay islands to the east, and to the world-famous Surin and Similan Islands to the northwest—are also for the most part operated from Phuket. Of the dozens and dozens of dive companies operating out of Phuket, many also provide liveaboard trips to islands in the Mergui Archipelago off the southern coast of Myanmar.
ELEPHANT PARKS: There are three main elephant parks in Phuket, but Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is the pioneer of ethical elephant tourism here, and they go to great lengths to create as natural and peaceful an environment as possible for their jumbo residents. While you can watch and walk with these majestic creatures, interaction beyond that is kept to a strict minimum. There are informative morning and afternoon tours available, and you can volunteer at the sanctuary for up to six days. By contrast, at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary guests can touch, feed, and photograph the elephants, as well as give them a mud bath and then a rinse in the river. Somewhere in the ethical middle is The Elephant Retirement Park, which allows physical interaction with the elephants, including giving them a mud bath and a wash, however they only accept small groups and no riding is allowed.
STAGE SHOWS: There are several elaborate stage shows to choose from in Phuket, starting with Siam Niramit Phuket—similar to the show of the same name in Bangkok—which takes viewers on a colourful journey through Thailand’s history and culture, and features over 100 actors, 500+ costumes, and even a few elephants. A similar family-friendly stage show can be seen at Phuket FantaSea, an evening theme park which features three main attractions—a Thai culture theatrical show, a theme buffet restaurant, and a shopping street. However, for something more over-the-top, the Phuket Simon Cabaret is an extravagant ladyboy revue that combines music, comedy, and a lot of tight-fitting gowns. There are three performances daily, at 6pm, 7:30pm, and 9pm, and tickets are B1,000 each.
PHANG NGA BAY: The geographic region known as Phang Nga Bay lies between Phuket and southern Thailand’s mainland. Also known as Ao Phang Nga National Park, it’s characterized by limestone cliffs and karst rock formations that jut out of the water, as well as mangrove forests and small islands. A lot of cut-rate tours take wide-eyed visitors to Khao Phing Kan, which is more popularly known as ‘James Bond Island’ because it appears in the 1974 film The Man with the Golden Gun, but that is hardly the most interesting spot here. Koh Phanak, known for its stunning caves and lagoons, is much more interesting and organized kayak tours—like the ones offered by Simba Sea Trips—deliver a much more rewarding Phang Nga visitor experience.
ADVENTURE EXCURSIONS: In contrast with rampant development along coastal areas of the island, Phuket’s interior still offers many hectares of land devoted to the cultivation of rice, rubber, cashew, cacao, pineapple, and coconut, as well as Phuket’s last bit of island rainforest. The Khao Phra Thaew Royal Wildlife & Forest Reserve covers a mountain range towards the northern end of the island and protects a vast area of evergreen monsoon forest. Jungle hikes to Ton Sai and Bang Pae waterfalls are a popular activity in the reserve, and for just B2,000 per person Paddle Phuket offers a six-hour jungle trek to these idyllic falls. The company, which specializes in stand-up paddleboard (SUP) excursions, also offers a host of other fascinating water-based island adventures as well.
MINING MUSEUM: Mining for tin, which began in the 18th century and drew to a close in the 1960s, is how the first fortunes were made in Phuket. If you want to “dig deeper” into the history of the island’s tin trade, the Phuket Mining Museum, which opened in August 2009, is the place to go. Although it’s a bit out of the way—located in Kathu (once a major area for this industry), on the road between Loch Palm Golf Club and British International School—it’s an interesting diversion and features elaborate displays ranging from scale models of tin mines, to a recreated scene in an opium den (just be aware that most of the signs and descriptions are only in Thai). Looking at these very realistic, and often life-sized dioramas makes one aware of many of the hardships the local citizenry once endured. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 4pm.
For info call: 088 766 0962